THE WEALTH OF CONSTELLATIONS…. In February, the Obama administration shocked Washington by unveiling a dramatically new vision for the future of America’s space program. For the first time since Apollo, NASA was getting out of the business of human spaceflight. Once the space shuttle was retired later in the year, the agency would oversee something very different: a multi-billion-dollar contract for a handful of private companies to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station — to operate a fleet of space taxis, more or less. Human spaceflight was going to be outsourced.
The companies that claim they can pull this off argue that space travel has a vast commercial potential that is simply waiting to be unleashed — that they can transform human spaceflight from a bloated government program into a profitable business. In the cover story of the May/June Washington Monthly, Charles Homans takes stock of the idea. Are these companies poised to launch the next paradigm of space travel, breaking NASA out of its thirty-year holding pattern? Or are they simply the next generation of Beltway bandits, luring the space agency into yet another costly boondoggle and putting the lives of astronauts in even greater danger?